A Michael Jackson seemingly out of nowhere makes no sense on multiple levels. First of all, SYTYCD has attempted tribute episodes before and they have gone poorly across the board. Secondly, as I mentioned last week their is a current embroilment between the Jackson estate and a former (current?) SYTYCD choreographer based on allegations the latter made against Jackson that can be assumed easily but will be delved into no further in this space. The guest judge is Jenna Dewan Tatum, yet another recycled judge by the show this season. That puts the production values of the show into serious “probably not coming back even with the extreme budget cuts” territory. Unfortunate, but even if this is the final season you can’t say Nigel and Co. didn’t try their absolute hardest to make it work with network restrictions in place. No Elena this week, which means no Cat Deeley Style Watch, but she should be back next week for the penultimate episode. Without further ado…
Top 8 Perform (choreographed by Travis Payne), “A Place With No Name” by Michael Jackson
The reason SYTYCD is airing a Michael Jackson tribute five years after he died near the end of what has been an iffy season overall is revealed almost immediately, as this single from a posthumous album being put out by his estate was released this very day. If somebody born in the 70’s or 80’s gets upset about a present day rap artist or hip-hop star sampling some favorite song of theirs, from this moment on you can turn to this MJ song as a prime reason for them to put down their stones should their glass houses get scratched. It’s an egregious sampling of “Horse With No Name” by an icon that does nothing to improve the overall quality of the song and brings down any potential energy the track could have had by bogging the fun parts down with unnecessary America parallels. I feel the same way about this opening number, as the choreography by Travis Payne was serviceable but nothing special. Theoretically, these should be the 8 best dancers in the competition on stage together, but it felt like they still didn’t know quite how to mesh with each other on stage and any excitement I had upon first seeing the fierceness of the costuming was quickly tempered by the routine that followed. Another major concern (applied to some choreographers much more than others) is that when aiming to give a nod to Michael Jackson’s music and aesthetic the choreographer will seem more than a poor facsimile of his talents rather than a proper sampling of what he gave to the world of dance. Hopefully the subdued opening performance here was because all of their rehearsal energy was spent on the other performances.
Ricky and Jaimie – Contemporary (choreographed by Travis Wall), “Smile” by Michael Jackson
In a tribute to Michael Jackson episode, the first two songs used are a song that is half somebody else’s and a cover track. I can appreciate the need to find a song that works for every genre of dance, which can be somewhat difficult if only given the options of Jackson’s classics, and the aim to not choose only crowd favorites when mapping out the episode. But really, if you plan a tribute to MJ you should probably try to include some of his better songs especially when highlighting less than ten of them. Ricky and Jaimie were made to dance together, and Travis didn’t let us down in his choreography for the pair. The way Jaimie’s dress contributed to the drifting feel of their movements across the stage allowed for every transition to fell of a piece with the rest of the routine. Ricky was marvelous (obviously) and maintains his status of “having this entire thing locked up”. The way he moves so easily across half the stage and makes it seem as though he only expended the energy required to move one foot blows me away week after week. Every challenge the show throws him he tackles with ease and beauty and I can’t wait to see what he gets to do in the finale.
Valerie and Ryan – Ballroom (choreographed by Jean-Marc Genereaux), “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”, by Michael Jackson
Out of her depth from the very beginning, Valerie once again spurs the question in my mind as to how she has made it this far. The good parts of the routine included Ryan being awesome and Valerie’s admittedly wonderful costuming, the rest of it was a very middling showing by the latter. I was hoping Mary would give her a solid critiquing in regards to her wide open legs and lackluster flicks and kicks, instead we got a judging panel that was closer to a parent-teacher meeting complete with copious pats on the back for a student that tries hard but just doesn’t cut it in class. All of their points are now being taken away from House Judging because I have no other way to deal with their reaction to that routine. In no way should Valerie have gotten away with half the errors she committed in that piece which, combined with some other suspicious judging critiques this season, leads me to believe FOX may have requested them to go slightly easier on the “top” dancers in order to more closely reflect America’s popular opinion of the dancers and increase audience engagement. Any other season Mary would have nit-picked her until Nigel butted in, instead we got a sub-par dancer continue to ease through to the Top 6 (and dear God maybe even the finale). Side note: did anybody else think she looked a little like Bellamy Young with her hair done up the way it was, or just me?
Casey and Comfort – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Pharside and Phoenix), “Xscape” by Michael Jackson
Another track off the new album, and this episode has officially become a farce for the ages. Tribute and marketing ploy are two entirely separate promotional strategies, and FOX has always been terrible at walking the thin line between the two concepts. Comfort is a force of nature when she takes the stage, always has been. Casey tried his absolute best to keep up with her energy and talent here but couldn’t quite measure up 100% with what she put on the table. The costuming for each dancer seemed to belong to two separate routines, even though I saw what they were aiming for as far as a black widow spider and a random human/prey passing by it just didn’t work as well as it could have. I will give Casey credit for putting his best effort into a routine he had to know he couldn’t perfect in a week though. When given the opportunity to do a signature spin he showed off his skills amidst the more difficult choreography he was working through. The chemistry between he and Comfort was nice as well, especially because she is a dancer that isn’t always conducive to partnership.
Tanisha and Nick – Contemporary (choreographed by Stacey Tookey), “She’s Out of My Life”, by Michael Jackson
The Stacey Tookey Love Story Train keeps on chugging this week with a less than original routine about a crooner who lost his girl and is sad now and blah blah blah. The routine worked to Tanisha’s strengths, allowing her to show off the solidity of her technique and partnership capabilities. Tookey’s song choice touched on the sadness that the routine explored further without forcing the story to take on too depressing a turn. My major problem with the routine came courtesy of Tanisha’s floor work, which was incredibly awkward through no fault of her own and brought all momentum Tanisha and Nick built with the smaller sequences to an absolute halt. Based on her routine from last week I’m not surprised she ended up in the bottom two, as her technical appeal but lack of any charisma was bound to take her only so far with the audience before that generosity dropped off.
Rudy and Alison – Contemporary (choreographed by Ray Leeper), “Dirty Diana” by Michael Jackson
Probably the most effortlessly energetic routine of the night up to this point, Rudy made a great case here for a spot as one of the final two boys. He didn’t have the strength to pull off some of the moves that were asked of him, such as the cartwheel off Alison’s back or his slow walk forward with her in his arms. It may have been the way the transitions into and out of those parts caught them both off guard, but there were other parts where Rudy showed that he could in fact handle requirements of strength and power. The “Dirty Diana” choice allowed Rudy to show off his sexy side (bummed we didn’t get a cutaway to Jacque standing somewhere offstage grinning) and embrace the energy the routine needed to succeed. Him being in the bottom two instead of Zack tonight was a travesty second to only Valerie still being around. I’m hard pressed to remember a previous time when Rudy got to show off the height he can reach on his leaps, and was happy to see him be able to give it his all before going home at the end of the night.
Zack and MacKenzie – Broadway (choreographed by Spencer Liff), “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson
Zack has grown so much since the start of the season it almost seems impossible. If he had ended up in the bottom two dancers tonight I would have felt bad that his transition to a well-rounded performer came too little too late, instead he and MacKenzie ended up with one of the best routines of the night because of Zack’s boundless energy and commitment to the concept. It makes sense he would feel comfortable seeing as Broadway is one of the closest genres to Tap in all of dance, and having MacKenzie as a partner only assisted him in proving how much his skills have advanced in only a few months. The one-footed slides across the stage were my favorite part, and the upbeat nature of the music complemented the story playing out on stage. If he makes it to the finale over Casey, I would point to this specific dance as the turning point for his skill and his appeal for the audience as one of the more fun to watch dancers in this competition.
Jacque and tWitch – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Dave Scott), “Slave to the Rhythm”, by Michael Jackson
Out of the two dancers saddled with a Hip-Hop routine far outside their comfort zone, Jacque definitely out danced Zack. Not by much, I’ll give Zack that, but she brought he best effort to the stage and made it seem like she has been dancing in this style for years. The way she fed off tWitch’s talent and skills in the isolations and slight improvisational work is the sign of dancer that can truly adapt. Points to House Makeup and House Costuming for the way her wardrobe enhanced the mood and animosity of her performance. In any other pairing I would be hard-pressed to look away from tWitch (because I can never look away from tWitch) but between Jacque’s neck rolls and the way she was able to get low without looking ridiculous has me very excited to see what she can do against Jessica in the finale (because let’s face it if Valerie makes it to the finale over her this entire post will just be a GIF of someone screaming instead of actual analysis). Jacque was borderline timid as a performer when not in her style of dance early in the competition and now I feel as if whatever the competition throws at her she can at least handle it even she is not able to make it completely flawless.
Jessica and Will – Contemporary (choreographed by Mandy Moore), “Earth Song” by Michael Jackson
Jessica is almost entirely wasted in this Mandy Moore routine, if it weren’t for the pure talent she exudes on stage I wouldn’t have enjoyed the performance nearly as much. Both dancers moved around each other as if in a beautiful orbit of chemistry and lightness. I wasn’t seeing it earlier in her auditions and performances this season, but it’s clear now that she has a very real shot to win the whole thing and continue her growth as an expressive and moving dancer. The costuming was a little weird here, seeing as Jessica was meant to represent an earthy presence in contrast to Will, but instead she looked like Betty Drape. All in all, a beautiful routine to close out the night even if it is clear it had a lot more potential than it eventually lived up too.
Neither dancer was going to win the season, but I am sad to see Rudy go probably before his time. It was the right moment for Tanisha to leave, and I don’t really think she could have grown any more on the show than she was already able. Rudy looking at the group of remaining dancers, clearly wanting to say Thank You and goodbye to Jacque, but instead thanking everyone made me weepy. They were a nice background side story to have throughout the season and I hope they keep hanging out/start dating in real life because they are an adorable dance couple. America better put Valerie in the bottom two next week because neither Jessica nor Jacque deserve to be passed over for the finale in favor of Valerie. my bet for the boy’s Top 2 are Ricky (duh) and Zack narrowly edging it out over Casey. Please be smarter with your votes, America. Nothing this season has been accurate based on talent or appeal it seems, but the chances of that changing now are slim.